HC Deb 25 July 1990 vol 177 cc504-6 5.59 pm
Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require every holder of a justices' on-licence to install on the licensed premises concerned a device enabling persons who have consumed intoxicating liquor to take a breath test before leaving the premises; and for connected purposes.

No one will be more aware than you, Mr. Speaker, that much of the most basic controversy in the House is not about objective, but about method. Objectives are easily stated; implementation and method are altogether another matter, involving not only resources but generally that most difficult civil procedure, an adjustment of rights and obligations. The Bill is no exception. Its objective is quite clear and I wish to make it unequivocal. It is to reduce the incidence of dangerous driving associated with alcohol.

Both the motor vehicle and alcohol, taken separately, may be described as good servants and bad masters. Taken together, the combination can be lethal. We know that the current cost to society is some £400 million per annum and an unmeasurable quantity of tragedy, pain and grief. The current Government philosophy assumes that a total separation of the vehicle and its driver from alcohol is both desirable and possible. It is expressed in the exhortation, "Don't drink and drive", and that has been confirmed most recently in a letter to me from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. All concerned now accept that there is a gulf between the law and the advice given, and some advocate a stiffening of the law which, taken to its logical limit, would require a zero limit and random breath testing. My Bill is based on an analysis which seeks to demonstrate that the current philosophy is fundamentally flawed.

First, a zero limit implies that the motor vehicle can be used as an instrument for enforcing prohibition on the roads. No state has ever achieved that, and none ever will. It is an aspect of moral fundamentalism, and fundamentalism flies in the face of human nature. Secondly, it is based on an assumption that random breath testing, on a large enough scale and enforced with Cromwellian rigour, will eventually achieve the objective. That, too, flies in the face of experience. It is an emotional response to the problem, and that is something that we cannot afford.

Emotions are malleable; facts are very stubborn—and the House will probably not welcome the facts that I shall now place before it. They are drawn largely from two official reports from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, published within the past two years, on drinking and driving. They disclosed that, of some 2,500 people stopped and tested on a random basis in Warwickshire and Sussex recently, 52 per cent. had consumed alcohol within the last 12 hours; 17 per cent. had alcohol in their bloodstream; and that, of those, 3.6 per cent. were just under the limit and 1.3 per cent. over the limit. Some 33 per cent. of those sampled had visited a pub, club, hotel or restaurant.

What does that suggest? First, it suggests that the elimination of the 1.3 per cent. is an essential and legitimate target; secondly, that the reduction of the 3.6 per cent. is both desirable and practical; thirdly, that exhortation—however brilliant or intense—will not have much effect on the remaining 69 per cent. There is not much point in endeavouring to push water uphill or alcohol back into the stills and vats of the distillers and brewers.

I come now to the crucial figure of 33 per cent. who had visited clubs, pubs, hotels and restaurants. There are about 135,000 licensed premises in the United Kingdom. Assuming that each receives a modest 50 visits per day by car, we have a target figure of more than 2,000 million visits per annum. If we apply the research laboratory's figures to that total, we must conclude that 344 million journeys will be made by drivers with alcohol in their bloodstreams, and that 2.6 million—1.3 per cent.—will be made by drivers unfit to drive.

That last figure is the real target of the Bill, bearing in mind two other research laboratory figures—that 40 to 50 per cent. of those tested drove themselves home and that a significant number of those tested who thought that they had consumed fewer than three units had, in fact, consumed more. Fifteen were over the limit. That ignorance cannot be right or justified, and it is not in the public interest.

What can be done? I have already eliminated draconian enforcement, which leaves only one obvious alternative—to assist members of the public to discover for themselves whether they are in categories 1, 2, 3 or 4. That requires the Government, first, to abandon the absurd notion that either laws or exhortation can achieve a total segregation of drinking and driving; secondly, to encourage drivers to test their alcohol levels as a matter of routine; and thirdly, to provide them with the means to do so.

My Bill would make the provision of such a facility an obligation on every licence-holder. I could not bring a machine into the Chamber, but I have a photograph with me which some hon. Members have already seen. The machine is accurate, reliable and easy to use. It has been successfully applied in Australia, California, Germany, Sweden and many other countries. It is estimated that 17,000 tests a day are carried out voluntarily by members of the public in Australia alone. The Royal Australian Navy has rated such machines an outstanding success, and some states are considering compulsory installation. It would cost £137 million, at a cost of £1,000 per machine, to install one in every pub in the United Kingdom—but what is that against a saving of thousands of lives and a medical bill of several hundred million pounds?

One outstanding criticism is that such devices would encourage drivers to drink up to the limit. There is no evidence to support that view. A pilot study in Australia revealed that there was no evidence of changes in respondents' behaviour as a result of obtaining BAC levels. The inventor of the fuel cell—I have two examples with me, of the sort used by the police and of those that can be applied to the ignition lock of a car—concluded that their installation does not, contrary to some opinion, lead to brinkmanship but to responsible and knowledgeable drinking by an educated public. That is our target.

Drivers should never be driving when out of the yellow zone depicted in the diagram I am holding. It is the zone of virtually nil risk. The whole of the red zone is a legitimate target and it should enjoy all our attention. If we endeavour to eliminate the yellow zone, we shall be squandering massive resources to no avail. There are about 7,000 breathalysers in the United Kingdom, almost all in the hands of the police. My purpose is to put 135,000 in the hands of the public, and thereby both reduce dangerous and drunken driving and release the police for much more important tasks.

I shall conclude with an analogy. Aircraft flying into Heathrow have their height and operations controlled by two devices—the radar at Heathrow and the altimeters in the aircraft. To suggest that the pilot should come in without altimeters and that the only people to know the aircraft's height should be the controllers at Heathrow, is obviously ridiculous. To suggest that vast numbers of the public who are likely to be driving with alcohol in their bloodstreams should have no method of discovering that fact until they are stopped by the police has always struck me as ridiculous. To put that right is the purpose of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Ian Lloyd, Sir Hal Miller, Mr. Stanley Orme, Sir Gerard Vaughan, Mr Ted Garrett, Mr. Patrick Cormack, Mr. Ted Leadbitter, Mr. Anthony Nelson, Mr. Jerry Wiggin and Mr. Michael Colvin.